Cannabis in American History – Part 3: Marijuana Prohibition

Part 3: Marijuana Prohibition

  • INTERNATIONAL DRUG PROHIBITION
  • In the early years of the 20th century there were broad attempts to bring a largely lawless society under social control. Grassroots prohibition movements against both opium and alcohol existed for decades led by women’s groups and clergy in both the US and Europe. Opium was a major object of colonial trade in 1800’s Asia and long known as a scourge. The first international meetings to bring the global opium trade under control are around 1906 and in 1916 the Harrison Narcotics Act puts trade in opiates under Federal control.
  • Cannabis indica and hashish were sometimes mentioned at these meetings but were never seriously considered for ban, in part because it was unclear how to put controls on wild growing plants. It was questionable whether the government even had constitutional powers to restrict wild plants, as opposed to manufactured products.
  • MEXICO
  • Mexican Catholics in the 1800’s are horrified by ‘marihuana’, their local name, and invent many lurid tales about the devil weed and sexuality and insanity.
  • Mexican immigrants fleeing the Revolution of 1910 pour into the United States, bringing their weed culture with them, including the horror stories which would be seized upon as govt propaganda.
  • Marihuana use was popular and widespread in Mexico at turn of century. Mexicans very afraid of marihuana, attributing violence and insanity to it. Mexico prohibits marijuana in 1920, and historically took a very hard line on cannabis prohibition.
  • The horror that this plant inspires has reached such an extreme that when the common people, having little inclination to research the facts, see even just a single plant, they feel as if in the presence of a demonic spirit. Women and children run frightened and they make the sign of the cross simply upon hearing its name. . . . It is a shame that in the midst of the 20th century some of us Mexicans are in such a lamentable state of obscurantism that any foreigner who might witness such absurdities with respect to this plant surely would laugh at us, and our ignorance would inspire compassion. – Isaac Campos, “In Search of Real Reform: Lessons From Mexico’s Long History of Drug Prohibition”
  • Mexican Revolution breaks out in 1910 and Mexican immigrants
  • La cucuaracha!
  • From its earliest origins in Mexico, marihuana had an alarming reputation for provoking madness, as seen in the following story from the Pacific Drug Review (1906):
    • Mariahuana [sic] is one of the most dangerous drugs found in Mexico. The weed grows wild in many localities of the southern part of that country. Its wonderful powers as a[n] intoxicant have long been known to the natives and many are the wild orgies it has produced. So dangerous is mariahuana, writes a correspondent to the Sun, that in the City of Mexico and other Mexican cities the Government keeps special inspectors employed to see that the weed is not sold in the markets.
    • A few years ago, it was found that many prisoners in the Belem prison in the City of Mexico were losing their minds. An investigation was started and the discovery was made that they were all addicted to the use of mariahuana, which was smuggled in to them by the guards, who had been bribed for that purpose. Since then strict orders prohibiting the use of mariahuana by prisoners have been enforced.
    • The poisonous weed always finds favor among the soldiers, who mix it with tobacco and smoke it. The sale of the weed to the soldiers is strictly prohibited, and severe punishment is provided for anyone guilty of the offense.
    • The habitual user of mariahuana finally loses his mind and becomes a raving maniac. There are scores and scores of such instances in Mexico. It is said that those who smoke mariahuana frequently die suddenly.  … The smoking of mariahuana is a seductive habit. It grows upon a person more quickly and securely than the use of opium or cocaine….
  • HARRY J. ANSLINGER
  • Harry Anslinger, a veteran foreign service and alcohol prohibition official, was appointed Director of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930. He would run the FBN for 32 years and lay the foundation for the war on drugs.
  • Anslinger was a true-believer in prohibition and believed in a harsh ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ approach, and had no tolerance for the view that drug addicts should be treated as sick patients in need of help.
  • Anslinger’s deeply held Calvinist convictions took form as puritan morality. An ultra right wing, and die hard cold warrior. Anslinger was seen as incorruptible, he lived a spartan lifestyle and was extremely devoted to his wife who suffered from long term health issues. Anslinger’s reputation as a law-and-order zealot was a big component of his political longevity.
  • Anslinger led a propaganda campaign through the 1930’s, proclaiming marijuana to be a dire threat that caused users to commit horrible violent crimes, sexual immorality, and insanity. Anslinger maintained a ‘gore file’ of grisly, blood soaked, crime scene photos that supposedly resulted from marijuana use.
  • Anslinger was very effective at public relations and was a regular feature in the press and had a great of public support, especially from law enforcement and conservative groups.
  • Anslinger’s use of the word ‘marijuana’, instead of the proper and common terminology Cannabis Indica and Indian Hemp which were familiar intentionally confused the public about the true nature of the plant in question.
  • FIBER HEMP IS A DANGEROUS DRUG
  • Anslinger made a big point of claiming that marijuana was growing wild all over the country representing a grave threat. Except that Anslinger was referring to ditch weed and farms crops of fiber hemp that have no drug value, but look identical to drug crops.
  • Anslinger’s propaganda campaign convinced the public that age old fiber hemp was all of a sudden a dangerous drug in need of law enforcement control.
  • In the 1930’s medical science had yet to identify the active chemicals in cannabis that cause the high and they had no reliable tests to determine whether a sample was psychoactive or not. The FBN used Acid and Alkaline Beam Tests that provided false positive results that farm hemp was narcotic, which was news to both the farmers and the drug users of the country.
  • Banning wild cannabis sativa was a massive power grab for law enforcement. Cannabis sativa grew as wild dandelions across broad swathes of the east and midwest of the country, but had no drug value. Law enforcement was now empowered to enter backyards, alleys, and farms in the hunt for marijuana.
  • Possession of cannabis sativa was made a crime, under alcohol prohibition possession was never a crime, but with marijuana a little leafy green material in your pocket lint was enough to get you in trouble.
  • WPA gangs tearing up 60 miles of marijuana growing along both banks of the Potomac River near Washington DC. This stretch of feral ditch weed ran from the USDA Experiment Farm’s hemp field in Arlington and ran past George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation 30 miles down stream. The “marijuana” that Anslinger and his agents were tearing up was the offspring of crops grown by the government and our Founding Fathers.
  • Outlawing hemp was a New Deal make work project for cops used to justify expanded police powers and a growing budget. And a racist power grab by law enforcement.
  • Hemp prohibition came right out of the Jim Crow playbook and was part of a tradition of policy that sought minimum pretext to arrest black people and put them into forced labor. These practices grew out of the Reconstruction and the period following the Civil War when freed slaves were often arrested and put to work.
  • The New Jim Crow book details how the drug war simply filled on the long history of arresting black people in America. Ava Duverney’s film, The 13th, also details the history. Marijuana prohibition became a key policy in the toolkit.
  • Marijuana prohibition spread beyond the black community and aimed at all the lower class groups, immigrants, particularly Mexicans but all dark-skinned immigrants, and lower class whites, particularly poor farmers and disreputable white people who socialized with blacks. Blacks were the center of the bulls-eye, but the target expanded out as well.   
  • RACISM
  • Harry Anslinger was the poster boy for institutional racism.
  • Anslinger really hated jazz music, and his agents spied on and harassed prominent jazz musicians through the 1940’s, including many of the most famous names in the business. FBN agents repeatedly attempted to infiltrate musician social circles but never had luck.
  • Anslinger plotted a nationwide bust of all the leading jazz musicians, but senior officials would never allow him to do it.
  • Anslinger was a piano player and earned money playing the musical accompaniment for silent films in his youth. Anslinger understood that marijuana was integral to the invention of jazz and swing music. It was marijuana that encouraged the musicians to stretch out the rhythms and time signatures and improvise, rather than playing the music exactly the way it was written on the sheet. Improvisation offended Anslinger’s sensibilities, he believed the musicians were not playing the music correctly. Anslinger was also culturally offended, he preferred European orchestral music, the music of civilization, jazz was the music of the savages.
  • It is true that jazz musicians were the most prominent advocates for marijuana in the pre-WWII years, with many hit songs about “vipers” and “tea”.
  • A pair of contrasting stories from the 1950’s illustrate Anslinger’s social views perfectly.
  • Billie Holiday was a prominent jazz singer, who is today considered one of the all time greats. Billie was no angel, she was a heavy drinker and abuser of cocaine and heroin. The FBN made a mission of hunting down Billie Holiday, largely for racial reasons, her song “Strange Fruit” was a protest against lynching. FBN agents planted drugs on her, arrested and she died in a hospital bed at age 44 while under arrest by the FBN. Anslinger protected white drug addicts like Judy Garland.
  • For the details, read this article. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/01/drug-war-the-hunting-of-billie-holiday-114298
  • Also in the 1950’s Anslinger later admitted that he had discovered that a prominent Senator, important in national security, had become a morphine addict. Despite personal reservations, Anslinger arranged for his personal pharmacist to provide the Senator with morphine. Anslinger wanted to ensure that the Senator would not be forced to the streets to provide his supply and he also did not want the Senator subjected to blackmail. Though Anslinger told this story in his memoir without naming the Senator, Anslinger’s biographer and other researcher believe the Senator was none other than the notorious red-baiter Joseph McCarthy, who died young of a mysterious illness.
  • So Anslinger was content to provide drugs to conservative Senator who shared Anslinger’s hard-line anti-communist views, or protect a famous white musician like Judy Garland, but Billie Holiday was lynched for being an uppity black woman who did not know her place.
  • OFFICIAL DUPLICITY AT FBN 
  • Part of Anslinger’s role as Director of the FBN was to support the national interest in foreign policy. The drug trade was primarily international and much of the FBN’s work took place overseas. The opium trade had been a powerful economic force for centuries and was one of the most important products of international trade, both legally and illegally. Fund from the opium/heroin trade are very useful in funding covert wars and there is a history of the US providing protection to international drug lords who were active partners in covert wars, usually against communists. These protected drug lords would be off limits from prosecution by the FBN (and later the DEA).
  • Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese Nationalists fought a civil war against Mao and the Chinese Communists. Heroin and opium trades was a critical source of funds for the insurgent army from the 1920’s to the 1950’s when Mao finally defeated the Nationalists. The USA supported the Nationalists and was fully aware of their drug activities.
  • Pattern of US intelligence agencies of protecting favored drug lords continued unabated starting with the Chinese Nationalists continuing with alliances with Sicilian and Corsican Mafias in Marseille, France in 1945 (The French Connection), Hmong Militia in Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War where the CIA actively moved heroin on CIA aircraft. The guns for drugs connections continued to the Contras in Nicaragua with cocaine in the 1970’s-80’s (Iran Contra scandal), to the heroin traffic in Afghanistan today that is being used by all sides in the fighting including US allies. In every case, drug trafficers who ally with the CIA who ally with the CIA in their covert wars are given protection from investigation and prosecution by US Drug Enforcement. Protection is the flipside of prohibition.
  • UN SINGLE COMMISSION ON NARCOTIC DRUGS – 1961
  • International treaty on marijuana, Anslinger’s last victory
  • “Drug culture is a threat to western civilization”
  • FBN disbanded in 1967 due to extensive corruption among agents.
  • FBN replaced by BNDD, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
  • NIXON
  • Halderman quote
  • Leary v. United States – 1969 – Supreme Court rules Marijuana Tax Act unconstitutional.
  • Controlled Substances Act enacted 1971
  • CSA creates five drug schedules and puts marijuana in Schedule I, the most restrictive, acknowledging no accepted use for marijuana.
  • DEA – Drug Enforcement Administration established in 1973
  • SCHAFFER COMMISSION
  • Nixon threw it in trash
  • MARIJUANA RECONSIDERED
  • Lester Grinspoon was a Harvard doctor who intended to publish a definitive account of the health danger of marijuana, but through his research discovered the safety and medical value of cannabis. Dr. Grinspoon would then become one of the leading experts and activists for medical marijuana from the 1970’s until today.